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An evaluation of refugee farmers in the Sacramento Valley to inform a USDA-funded food-safety training program


Food safety is a critical component of agriculture production and marketing. Agriculture extension services in California disseminate information to growers on effective food safety practices to reduce the risk of illness caused by contaminated produce for consumers and growers. However, there is a diversity of growers in California that have unique characteristics in terms of methods of production and marketing, and diversity in learning preferences and needs. Among the population of producers in California, and in the United States, are resettled refugees. To better understand the particular food safety needs and learning preferences of refugee farmers in California, fifteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with lu Mien, Iraqi, and Nepali/Bhutanese growers in the Sacramento valley. Social Cognitive Theory was then applied as a framework to analyze learning preference responses among growers. The consistent reference of social (peers, family, mentors) and physical (crop health and physical health) factors in learning-related responses validated Social Cognitive Theory's use as a framework for analyzing learning preferences in agricultural extension. Although there was variation among the interviewed refugee farmer groups in terms of food safety awareness and needs, growers prevalently highlighted the importance of safe chemical (pesticide) use and the importance of food safety for consumer and personal (family) health. Additionally, although hygienic practices (at both the farm-level and personal-level) are being followed, interviewed farmers generally did not elaborate or connect why those practices are specifically necessary to reduce pathogen spread and contamination. The findings from the interviews and subsequent analysis was then used to inform the design of a USDA-funded food safety training program, led by the International Rescue Committee, that will be delivered to these same refugee farming groups.

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